HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- Thomas Jones heard all the talk and refused to let it bother him.
In the months following the New York Jets' dismal 4-12 season, many fans and members of the media insisted running back Darren McFadden would be a perfect fit for a team needing a big-time playmaker.
"Honestly, I never was concerned about it," the Jets' starting running back said tersely.
"No," he said, shaking his head. "Who cares? That's not my job. I've been through it all before. My job is to play football. The coaches and the management, that's their job. I'll leave their job up to them, and I'll do my job."
Jones split time with Cedric Benson and the two were less than friendly, despite helping lead the Bears to the Super Bowl in 2007. A few weeks later, Chicago traded Jones to New York -- a deal that was widely considered a steal for the Jets.
While Jones stabilized a position that had been in flux since Curtis Martin suffered a career-ending injury at the end of the 2005 season, some still criticized him for having a minimal impact on the offense last season. He rushed for 1,119 yards, his third straight year over 1,000, but averaged just 3.6 yards a carry, had four 100-yard games and rushed for only one touchdown.
"Last year was a tough year," Jones said. "I ended up 10th in the league in rushing with over 1,100 yards, but I mean, it was a tough year. We had a young team, and we had some bad breaks. But you learn from those mistakes and from those situations and you grow. That's what I'm doing."
Whether they flirted with the idea of trading up to snag McFadden in April, the Jets appear to be clearly committed to Jones being their primary ballcarrier. They signed him to a big four-year deal when they acquired him and added two Pro Bowl linemen to help block for him in guard Alan Faneca and tackle Damien Woody.
"Anytime you have good linemen come in, it's going to help the running back," Jones said. "They're going to be on top of their game, and that's going to help me be on top of my game. They bring leadership, they've played in Super Bowls, they've won, they've had experience and they bring everything else to the team and the young guys will be able to learn, too."
Jones, known as much for his huge biceps and incredible workout regimen as for his running ability, has impressed at least one of his new teammates in minicamp.
"I think he rolls his sleeves up on purpose," Faneca said with a big grin. "It's an illusion. He's an animal in the weight room. He likes to work out."
Jones has spent lots of time with all the offensive linemen during the offseason -- in the gym and away from football.
"There's an unsaid appreciation between the running backs and offensive line," Faneca said. "They appreciate us going out there and laying it on the line. Especially in my time, you appreciate a guy who goes out there who puts his head down, works hard and lays it out there on the line himself. You get in the weight room, and there's a little more of the same appreciation."
Jones is far from flashy, on the field or off. The son of Virginia coal miners, he's a blue-collar running back who gets yards mainly with hard runs and busting through tackles. He's also a good company man, rarely complaining about the game plan, even when coach Eric Mangini and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer seemed to move away from the run too quickly. Jones had 25 or more carries just three times and had at least 98 yards rushing in all three games.
"I'm here to be a running back, to run and block and catch and do all those things," he said. "Any situation like that, that's really not up to me. I come out here everyday and do what I'm asked to do."
Jones has looked good in camp while splitting carries with Leon Washington, Jesse Chatman, Musa Smith and a handful of free agents. After a frustrating season and an offseason of uncertainty, Jones is just happy to be back on the field running the ball for the Jets.
"It's always exciting, man, when this time of the year comes around," Jones said. "Football is my love. I love the game, man, and I've been playing for a long time, so anytime you come back around and you have an opportunity to get back on the field and be with your teammates, it's fun."
Note: The team got a break from practice Saturday, instead getting a tour of the team's future headquarters in Florham Park, N.J. The players, their families and team staff members then went to a local high school, met with area vendors and then had a party with food, live music and activities for their children.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press